1. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is a traumatic tale of loss, dysfunction, and violence. A challenging book in a number of ways; first, you must grapple with the strange grammar and tempo of McBride’s prose, then watch her tale unfold into ever-deepening tragedy. I was sobered by the way reality crumbled and distorted as these characters experienced such deep pain. Considering myself a light-hearted fellow, I had to resist putting this one down a few times. Don’t expect a happy ending, but read to the last page and you will find yourself changed.
2. Cathedral – Raymond Carver
Everybody remembers reading a Carver story in school. Minimalist, vivid, and (often) in the words of my dear friend Carter Moody, “drunk”, Carver’s stories deliver the punchline as swiftly as he can make them. When I began reading through his short story collections a few years ago I was under the assumption that most of them turned out bad: families dissolving, lonely people acting out in desperation, alcohol-fueled arguments, etc. Now I feel inclined to describe Carver’s work as hopeful, on the whole. Yes, Carver takes his characters to the edge, but he doesn’t always push them off. Most of these stories end with truth and transformation, a sort of trial by fire.
I was especially pleased by the title story “Cathedral”, which went right over me when I read it in undergrad. Reread any book on your shelf and you will discover that your impression of fiction depend equally on the story and on your story!
3. March: Vols. 1-3 – John Lewis
John Lewis’s three volume graphic memoir was the perfect primer on the Civil Right’s Movement. And indeed, I needed a primer. I learned about the Civil Right’s Movement in school with everyone else, but aside from a few major events, the history felt like an abstraction. I had not understanding of the timeline, the escalation of events, and the numerous people and organizations involved over the years. This book helped me by delivering a narrative account beginning with the Nashville sit-ins and leading all the way to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (all framed by the 2009 Inauguration of President Barack Obama).